The Academy's failed imitation of St. Peter is worsening by the year...|
by Gabriel Ruzin, published on Monday, February 28, 2011 - 18:30
It may sound a touch morbid, but one of the segments that I look forward to the most during every Oscar broadcast is the Academy's 'In Memoriam' spot. It is an important and necessary moment for cinema fans to remember and reflect upon those great movie-makers that have passed away over the previous year, whether in front of the camera or behind it. For every new Ellen Page or Hailee Steinfeld that begins a promising young career, there is a Leslie Nielsen or Dennis Hopper that sadly shuffles off their mortal coil forever, leaving wistful memories and brilliant catalogs of their wonderful work in film.
It is for that reason - memory - that the 'In Memoriam' portion of the show is crucial to the celebration as a whole. While the film-loving community congratulates those that represent the best that film-making has to offer, another group - the men and women that inspired us in years past and who are now gone - deserve that final tip of the hat from the Academy. They deserve that brief mention that says "we remember you, we miss you, and we thank you".
Unfortunately for those who look forward to this segment as I do, the Academy, of late, has mishandled this public service terribly. Film fans and regular viewers of the Oscars may remember last year's controversy, when Bea Arthur, Brad Renfro, and Farrah Fawcett were inexplicably left off last year's memorial rolls. After a firestorm of criticism, a spokesperson for the ceremony made a statement about the omissions but stopped well short of apologizing, saying that "no matter how carefully" the Academy pondered who should and should not be included that "there are people who simply can't be". In other words, just because a million people sent irate emails and phone calls to us for leaving some people out, we just don't care. Some actors just don't make the grade. Some actors "simply can't be".
Despite the Academy's obstinate position regarding its 'In Memoriam' segment last year, movie fans were hoping that its production staff had learned its lesson and would strive to include as many 'soft spot' choices as possible for its 2010-2011 attempt. A particularly noteworthy actor's demise that had stirred the Internet hornet's nest was that of Corey Haim. Star of several 1980s teen movies, including cult vampire flick The Lost Boys and License to Drive, Haim died of multiple heart issues worsened by pneumonia in March 2010. During its 'In Memoriam' segment earlier in the year, the Screen Actor's Guild bypassed Haim on its list of departed entertainers, angering many of Haim's fans. Longtime friend Corey Feldman publicly criticized the move, accusing the Guild of ignoring Haim on the basis of his low-key roles. A SAG spokeswoman did have the courtesy of issuing an apology in this instance, albeit a weak one, saying that both longer and shorter packages had been created for the segment. As the show was 'running late', the shorter one was cued up and the longer one, which presumably included Haim, was discarded. Little solace for Feldman. "We have become used to not being honored by our peers in the industry," Feldman said. "I have faith that the Academy will make a wiser choice."
Fat chance. To the over-emoted warbling of Canadian songstress Celine Dion, the lights went down last night and name after name trawled its way across the screen. A few minutes later, the music died, the show cut to commercial, and nary a Haim in sight. Now, as much as I believe he should have been included, Haim's absence alone might not have been enough to prompt me to write this piece, until I realized what other cinematic greats we lost this year and were also not considered worthy for the Academy to remember for two seconds.
Does Peter Graves ring a bell? The brilliantly-deadpan pilot in Airplane and star of TV's Mission:Impossible apparently didn't act in enough movies to be saluted upon his demise last March of a heart attack. At least that's the excuse the Academy used for not honoring Farrah Fawcett last year.
Kenneth Mars died just weeks ago and was a genius of comedic timing, stealing the show in such titles as The Producers and Young Frankenstein. No mention. Maybe they didn't have enough time to insert a two-second blurb of him somewhere in that montage. Yeah, sure they didn't.
Barbara Billingsley was best known for her role as June Cleaver in Leave it to Beaver, but along with her extensive television resume, Billingsley starred in over 20 films during her celebrated career. Yesterday, the Oscars decided she hadn't done enough to warrant a mention.
You may not be familiar with Harold Gould, whose most familiar role was perhaps Rose Nylund's boyfriend Miles in The Golden Girls, but Gould's 50+ year career in film and television included roles in over 20 films, including The Sting, Silent Movie, Patch Adams, and the 2003 remake of Freaky Friday. Another forgotten name come Oscar night.
I could go on and on. No Maria Schneider, the French actress who co-starred with Marlon Brando in Last Tango in Paris. No Maury Chaykin, one of Hollywood's most dependable supporting character actors with over 150 movie and TV roles under his belt. No Lisa Blount, who co-starred in An Officer and a Gentleman and who eventually won an Oscar for her 2001 live action short film The Accountant. Sad losses all, and all them escaped the Academy's mind when it had one last shot to remember them.
Sadly, though, this hubbub will be much ado about nothing as far as the Oscars are concerned. These, and other, omissions will likely be chalked up to the necessity to fit into broadcast time constraints, as these things generally are. Ironically, however, for a program so obsessed with sticking to its original time slot, the Academy Awards are invariably abject failures in that regard. When is the last time that you watched the Oscars and it didn't go 20-30 minutes over its established end-time? What is with this pernicious focus on adhering to the 'schedule'? Upcoming segments are desperately hacked and slashed behind the scenes and respected actors' deaths are left by the wayside, while insiders and production staff members wring their hands and fret about Aaron Sorkin's acceptance speech going 17 seconds long. Enough already.
I think I speak for a lot of people, yon Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, when I say that we really don't care how long the Oscars last. We've already watched for three hours, so what's another 30 minutes? Include what needs including, like remembering the people who slaved for their craft for part of (or all of) their entire lives to make your industry what it is today. Memory is a powerful thing. We want to remember our dearly departed. Don't make it easier for us to forget them.